The missing coaches from Canada-Russia

Reminiscing about the 1972 Summit Series has ended. Until the next “hockey anniversary” of when Canada met Russia, it’s likely to be ignored, and by then great hockey coaches from both sides will be gone, and forgotten.

Two were not involved in the Canada-Russia Series but should’ve been. One, Anatoli Tarasov, will never be forgotten. The “father of Russian ice hockey” turned bandy (field hockey on ice) into hockey, and was the first Soviet enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame. He lost his job after losing the World Championship to Czechoslovakia, replaced by another former hockey star, Vsevolod Bobrov, the coach in ’72.

Also missing was Jackie McLeod, the Canada national team coach. He lost his job when he lost his team, disbanded when the 1970 World Championships were taken from Canada. Two years later, McLeod was a coaching candidate until the NHL insisted on Harry Sinden.

On paper, they’d have made a great team. McLeod (Trail, 1961) and Sinden (Whitby, 1958) both played on world champions, so they knew Russian hockey. McLeod, in particular. He’d gone head-to-head many times with Tarasov. He coached the Nats for almost four years and, sadly overmatched in the 1968 Olympic gold-medal game, his team was close (2-0) until the Russians put Canada away in the third period.

In Sinden, the Whitby captain in 1956, patriotism burned. until his chance to coach Canada. He jumped at it. After coaching Boston to its first Stanley Cup in 39 years, Sinden abruptly quit when the Bruins cheaped out on a new contract. He worked for a modular-housing company which — coincidentally — went broke almost exactly as he was asked to coach Team Canada. Ironically, when Paul Henderson scored to win the series (6-5) 50 years ago this week, it was Sinden’s last meaningful game as a coach.

Somewhere in Saskatchewan, Jackie McLeod turned 92 this year. Sinden is 90. Like Sinden, McLeod has a “Henderson moment” in his past, although you had to live in Winnipeg to appreciate it. There was an annual New Year’s international tournament at the Winnipeg Arena. The Russians were always prohibitive favourites. The city lived and died with the Nationals and, for the championship game, a record crowd included Prime Minister Pearson. The Nationals trailed by two goals, then rallied to win in the third period, just like Team Canada did five years later in Moscow. “Paul Henderson” that night (5-4) was Billy MacMillan.

Tarasov and McLeod were the coaches that night. A year later, as the National Team writer, I covered the tournament Russia won, when Tarasov took exception to my metaphorical reference to his team as a mighty “Russian bear.” Players whose names ended in “ov” demonstrated a skill level never seen in Canada, so Winnipeggers weren’t shocked when the gifted Russians were so competitive in 1972. Had McLeod been paired with Sinden, Team Canada would surely have been less surprised, because he could’ve written a book on how good the Russians were.

McLeod didn’t write a book, but both Sinden and Tarasov did. You can find Tarasov’s Road To Olympus online for between $200 and $1,200.

Clearly, he hasn’t been forgotten.